BTRC Archives — Page 2 of 2


When I gave a talk a few months back at RMIT in Melbourne about how we engaged governments with policy-relevant research, a senior person in the audience said that we seemed to be having greater success in getting the government of Bangladesh to pay heed to evidence than they did in Australia. Proving him half right, the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission has convened a stakeholder meeting to obtain input for the country’s position at WCIT in Dubai. Now if the government actually votes against the ill-thought out proposals by the Arab and African states to impose access charges for Internet content, my Australian colleague will be proven 100% right. A recent report on the subject in Daily Star. Abu Saeed Khan, a senior policy fellow of Colombo-based think tank LIRNEasia, said the Bangladesh government has ignored the ITU’s directive that instructed it to consult the ITR issues with its citizens.
There were lots of political fireworks when Bangladesh got elected as one of the Council Members in ITU two years back. I welcomed it cautiously. Because, I am aware of the institutional incompetence of Bangladesh in contributing as a Council Member in the ITU. I kept asking the officials in BTRC and MOPT about their activities. All I heard was the travel plans of attending various meetings and workshops across the globe.
But this time they are not the numbers given by the ITU. They are the exaggerated claims of the BTRC. The Daily Star questions: If BTRC’s figures were true, Bangladesh would be among the top 20 countries in the world in terms of number of internet users. Alas, it is nowhere in sight. Munir Hasan, an ICT expert and secretary general of Open Source Network, estimates the number of internet users in the country to be no more than 1.
Finally, some good news from Dhaka. Four mobile operators have cooperatively started to swap frequencies to yield a more rational arrangement. Congratulations to the regulator, the industry body and the operators. After the rearrangement process, the quality of services of the mobile operators will be better than before with reduced call drops and more efficient network, said Abu Saeed Khan, secretary general of Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB). Explaining the matter, Khan said, if you have three pieces of land in different places, you will have to make more boundaries to separate your lands from others.
For the longest time, I could not understand why there were no legal challenges to the regulator in Bangladesh. No one went to court, however arbitrary the decisions were. Looks like that has changed. Grameenphone has won a crucial legal battle with regulators BTRC as High Court has rejected claim for an extra Tk 236 crore in spectrum fees levied in 2008. A two-judge bench also said the BTRC was however right in asking for the spectrum and licence renewal fees without deducting value added tax.
  According the LIRNEasia’s 2011 Telecom Regulatory Environment (TRE) survey, stakeholders in India, Pakistan and Indonesia have identified the telecom regulatory environments in their countries as improved since 2008, the last time the survey was carried out.   In contrast, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines have seen the regulatory environments decline in effectiveness, while Thailandremains more-or-less the same. The TRE Survey asks senior level stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of the telecom regulatory environment in the fixed, mobile and broadband subsectors along a Lickert scale of 1 to 5 (1 being highly ineffective and 5 being highly effective, with the mid-point of 3 being considered average performance).  Seven different dimensions of regulation (market entry, tariff regulation, interconnection, universal service, anti-competitive-practices, quality of service) are evaluated by the stakeholders.    This year, 349 responded participated in the 7 countries.
Harsha de Silva, LIRNEasia’s Consultant Lead Economist, has made a submission in response to BTRC’s Call for Comments on a draft regulatory and licensing guidelines on renewal of mobile telecommunication services in Bangladesh. The submission focuses on a few important issues, relating to economic efficiency, transparency and good governance. The guidelines propose a license renewal fee of BDT 10 crore from each operator. An additional fee of BDT 150 crore per MHz of GSM  1800MHz band and CDMA frequency; and/or BDT 300 crore per MHz of GSM 900MHz band from each operator for the initial assignment of spectrum, and a subsequent annual fee is also proposed. LIRNEasia questions the seemingly arbitrary justification used to set the upfront lump-sum license renewal fees.
The cabinet has decided to seize the regulatory functions from BTRC and give it back to the telecoms ministry in Bangladesh. Therefore, the politicians and civil servants will again assign licenses and spectrum. Even worse – they will approve the tariff and services. Welcome to the Stone Age. BTRC was born with a reasonable degree of independence on January 31, 2002.
Bangladesh is currently conducting a public consultation on proposed Significant Market Power regulation.  The recommendations made by an ITU consultant proposes Significant Market Power (SMP) regulation.   This is not something many regulators in our region have focused on, at least not recently (though very light flavors of SMP determinations can be found in some countries such as Pakistan).  So we sought the help of our sister research network RIA.  Using the recent experience of South Africa in using SMP in regulation (and contrasting with Namibia and Botswana which do not use SMP), Allison Gillwald of RIA gave us useful input on the pros and cons of the approach.